Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Visit with Glenn via YouTube

YouTube is my secret little indulgence. Since I have no access to television, people assume that I occupy myself with all sorts of productive activities -- such as practising Hanon dutifully on the piano.
But today I have just spent upwards of an hour surfing the myriad offerings on YouTube. Among them, a delicious variety of videos of Glenn Gould -- at work and at play on the Steinway and the dear old Chickering, holding court thoughtfully as he does during interviews, in occasionally mischievous discussion with other musicians, walking with his beloved dog, Banquo.
One of the pieces I return to again and again is a short clip of him at the Chickering in the cottage on Lake Simcoe, playing Bach's Partita No. 2 in C minor. Here he is a relatively young man, hardly looking out of his teens with fine cheekbones and almost gangling limbs. He has already adopted some of the mannerisms he will become known for -- the singalong tendencies, conducting himself, indifference to dress (he appears to be in a housecoat).
But, oh the absorption, the intense study, the nearly complete morphing of man with music. I suppose one might suspect Glenn of ham-fisted performance in the most obvious sense of the word -- he gets up abruptly from the keyboard in the middle of a frenetic passage and walks to the window, contemplating its execution with his unself-conscious muttering of the rhythm and immediately returns to the piano as if there had been not the slightest nanosecond of a pause. Had he been planning this one all along? Certainly Glenn was known for his delight in playing fictitious personas, replete with terrible accents. However, in spite of the fact that he would have been quite aware of a camera lens following his every move and scrutinizing each sniff and warble, I don't believe you make music as he did without stepping into its notes and rests and bar lines.
This film clip, part of a documentary that probably helped create the myth of Glenn Gould the Solitary, perhaps unwittingly touches on Glenn Gould the Ordinary Fellow. There is a teacup on the piano. The dog yawns as he lies near his master. The fluttering shadows of leaves outside the cottage on a sun-baked day is memory itself -- bleached, singularly another time in our lost consciousness.
It is always the way with Glenn Gould; one beholds his playing and is heartened while wistfully wondering if he ever knew contentment.

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